Tag Archives: vulnerability management

What You Need to Know about Recent Xen Project Security Advisories

Today the Xen Project announced eight security advisories: XSA-191 to XSA-198. The bulk of these security advisories were discovered and fixed during the hardening phase of the Xen Project Hypervisor 4.8 release (expected to come out in early December). The Xen Project has implemented a security-first approach when publishing new releases.

In order to increase the security of future releases, members of the Xen Project Security Team and key contributors to the Xen Project, actively search and fix security bugs in code areas where vulnerability were found in past releases. The contributors use techniques such as code inspections, static code analysis, and additional testing using fuzzers such as American Fuzzy Lop. These fixes are then backported to older Xen Project releases with security support and published in bulk to make it easier for downstreams consumers to apply security fixes.

Before we declare a new Xen Project feature as supported, we perform a security assessment (see declare the Credit2 scheduler as supported). In addition, the contributors focused on security have started crafting tests for each vulnerability and integrated them into our automated regression testing system run regularly on all maintained versions of Xen. This ensures that the patch will be applied to every version which is vulnerable, and also ensures that no bug is accidentally reintroduced as development continues to go forward.

The Xen Project’s mature and robust security response process is optimized for cloud environments and downstream Xen Project consumers to maximize fairness, effectiveness and transparency. This includes not publicly discussing any details with security implications during our embargo period. This encourages anyone to report bugs they find to the Xen Project Security team, and allows the Xen Project Security team to assess, respond, and prepare patches, before before public disclosure and broad compromise occurs.

During the embargo period, the Xen Project does not publicly discuss any details with security implications except:

  • when co-opting technical assistance from other parties;
  • when issuing a Xen Project Security Advisory (XSA). This is pre-disclosed to only members on the Xen Project Pre-Disclosure List (see www.xenproject.org/security-policy.html); and
  • when necessary to coordinate with other projects affected

The Xen Project security team will assign and publicly release numbers for vulnerabilities. This is the only information that is shared publicly during the embargo period. See this url for “XSA Advisories, Publicly Released or Pre-Released”: xenbits.xen.org/xsa.

Xen’s latest XSA-191, XSA-192, XSA-193, XSA-194, XSA-195, XSA-196, XSA-197 and XSA-198 Advisory can all be found here:
xenbits.xen.org/xsa

Any Xen-based public cloud is eligible to be on our “pre-disclosure” list. Cloud providers on the list were notified of the vulnerability and provided a patch two weeks before the public announcement in order to make sure they all had time to apply the patch to their servers.

Distributions and other major software vendors of Xen Project software were also given the patch in advance to make sure they had updated packages ready to download as soon as the vulnerability was announced. Private clouds and individuals are urged to apply the patch or update their packages as soon as possible.

All of the above XSAs that affect the hypervisor can be deployed using the Xen Project LivePatching functionality, which enables re-boot free deployment of security patches to minimize disruption and downtime during security upgrades for system administrators and DevOps practitioners. The Xen Project encourages its users to download these patches.

More information about the Xen Project’s Security Vulnerability Process, including the embargo and disclosure schedule, policies around embargoed information, information sharing among pre-disclosed list members, a list of pre-disclosure list members, and the application process to join the list, can be found at: www.xenproject.org/security-policy.html

Security vs Features

We’ve just released a rather interesting batch of Xen security advisories. This has given rise in some quarters to grumbling around Xen not taking security seriously.

I have a longstanding interest in computer security. Nowadays I am a member of the Xen Project Security Team (the team behind security@xenproject, which drafts the advisories and coordinates the response). But I’m going to put forward my personal opinions.

Of course Invisible Things are completely right that security isn’t taken seriously enough. The general state of computer security in almost all systems is very poor. The reason for this is quite simple: we all put up with it. We, collectively, choose convenience and functionality: both when we decide which software to run for ourselves, and when we decide what contributions to make to the projects we care about. For almost all software there is much stronger pressure (from all sides) to add features, than to improve security.

That’s not to say that many of us working on Xen aren’t working to improve matters. The first part of improving anything is to know what the real situation is. Unlike almost all corporations, and even most Free Software projects, the Xen Project properly discloses, via an advisory, every vulnerability discovered in supported configurations. We also often publish advisories about vulnerabilities in other relevant projects, such as Linux and QEMU.

Security bugs are bugs, and over the last few years the Xen Project’s code review process has become a lot more rigorous. As a result, the quality of code being newly introduced into Xen has improved a lot.

For researchers developing new analysis techniques, Xen is a prime target. A significant proportion of the reports to security@xenproject are the result of applying new scanning techniques to our codebase. So our existing code is being audited, with a focus on the areas and techniques likely to discover the most troublesome bugs.

As I say, the Xen Project is very transparent about disclosing security issues; much more so than other projects. This difference in approach to disclosure makes it difficult to compare the security bug density of competing systems. When I worked for a security hardware vendor I was constantly under pressure to explain why we needed to do a formal advisory for our bugs. That is what security-conscious users expect, but our competitors’ salesfolk would point to our advisories and say that our products were full of bugs. Their products had no publicly disclosed security bugs, so they would tell naive customers that their products had no bugs.

I do think Xen probably has fewer critical security bugs than other hypervisors (whether Free or proprietary). It’s the best available platform for building high security systems. The Xen Project’s transparency is very good for Xen’s users. But that doesn’t mean Xen is good enough.

Ultimately, of course, a Free Software project like Xen is what the whole community makes it. In the project as a whole we get a lot more submissions of new functionality than we get submissions aimed at improving the security.

So personally, I very much welcome the contributions made by security-focused contributors – even if that includes criticism.

Community Member Highlight – Meet Todd Deshane

Xen Community:

If you don’t already know Todd Deshane and the work he and his colleagues have done at Clarkson University for the Xen project, take the time to check out his profile at http://www.xen.org/community/spotlight/deshane.html. Todd is very active in the community and has submitted assistance on the Xen mailing lists for over 665 questions. He has also been a leader in the community in building and teaching Xen for  USENIX Xen training classes.

Todd has also presented at Xen Summit’s with his last presentation at Xen Summit Boston in June last year; http://www.xen.org/files/xensummitboston08/Deshane-XenSummit08-Slides.pdf.

Make sure you get in touch with Todd to learn even more about his virtualization PhD research and get answers to your most sophisticated Xen hypervisor questions.

USENIX ’08 Xen Training Session

As part of Xen Summit being co-located with the USENIX Annual Technical Conference in Boston, Xen.org is hosting a 1 day training session on the Xen hypervisor. Thanks to everyone who offered their assistance to run the training session. The session is currently listed at http://www.usenix.org/events/usenix08/training/tutonefile.html#s4 with Todd Deshane and Patrick Wilbur from Clarkson University leading the effort with myself in limited support. The training is being held Sunday June 22 and everyone in the community is invited to attend.